Ever improving productivity translates to fewer workers. If you are one of those surplus workers, that does not guarantee that you don’t have a job—it just means that you don’t have that job. With revised skills, specialized training, a new twist on your talent, or a fresh career direction, you will soon be some company’s desired new-hire.

Steel mill production is an interesting example of how this works. Within the past two decades industrywide, the number of worker-hours needed to produce one ton of steel dropped from 700 to 250. Steel plants of the future replacing older plants of the past are immensely more sophisticated and IT enhanced. This means fewer employees are needed, but the ones that are needed must be more educated or skilled (Thomas Biesheuvel “500,000 Tons of Steel. 14 Jobs” Bloomberg Businessweek. June 26, 2017, pp. 16–17).

Some people are good at navigating these tumultuous seas to better shores while others end up on deserted islands or lost at sea. How well you do depends on your attitude, skills, education, drive, and passion. Having a plan is vital along with working your personal and professional network.

Long gone are the days when Father Corporation promised to take care of you for your entire career and beyond. Rather than hopelessly searching for a guaranteed job for life, it is your responsibility to reengineer yourself for a much better goal—guaranteed lifetime employability. The difference between the two strategies is massive. However, crossing that gulf is not impossible. It is even exhilarating and fun when you do it right.

Reengineering steel manufacturing will be a constant process. Much more important than reengineering steel however, is reengineering you. That is your responsibility. The sooner you embrace it, the happier and more successful you will be. Remember, in today’s economy you have to be stronger than steel.


Some of the most profound life truths are the simplest. Woody Allen said 90% of life is just showing up. Although certainly a humorous statement, it bears a subtle significant truth we cannot escape. Presence is important.

Another simple yet profound life truth is keep your eyes open. The power of observation is something that can benefit each of us if we remember to use it. Of course we all have those times when our eyes can fool us. It is an extremely old joke, but I will share it anyway:

For the first time in his life, Grandpa Hillbilly visited a modern metropolis with his family. At one point, while the ladies were shopping at a massive mall, he parked himself on a bench across from another marvel he had never before seen: an elevator. He watched as an elderly lady with a cane fussed with the buttons a moment and then ambled into the elevator to disappear from Grandpa Hillbilly’s sight as the door closed. About two minutes later the elevator door opened and out strode a gorgeous, vivacious young lady. Grandpa sat there in amazement for a few seconds. Then he turned to his 9-year old grandson and said, “Billy, quick! Go get Grandma!”

Lest we immediately see ourselves as immune to such foolish tricks of the eyes, never forget that sadly sometimes we can get so caught up in our own little world that we forget to observe. If we forget to observe then we rob ourselves of valuable lessons that observation reveals.

You’ve heard of active listening? Well how about active observation? Simple observation holds tremendous power if you intentionally tap into it. Some of the most powerful leadership, life, business, and relationship lessons I have ever learned arose not from a book, a class, or a seminar, but from simple observation. And the good news is that you never run out of people to observe!

Think about the people you most admire, the people you view as the most successful, the people you believe have accomplished the most for their organizations, and the people that have been your best mentors, friends, and confidants. A major reason that you hold those persons in such high esteem is because you have observed them in different situations. If you take the time to ponder how they handled those situations, you can usually think of similar situations you face today. Then simply ask yourself how can I better handle a situation I face today based on my observations of that person and thereby achieve similar positive outcomes?

I have learned much from the people that have mentored me. Much of that learning was delivered directly by the person’s words, and of course I value that immeasurably. However, the majority of what I learned materialized within me as I pondered my meticulous observations of that person. What they did spoke louder than what they said.

A particularly wonderful convenience about the power of observation is that you don’t even have to know the person you are observing. Public figures, people you read about, individuals you simply happen to see from a distance, people you might only know very indirectly all provide observational learning lessons. Someone I know well simply recounting an episode about someone I don’t know, provides observation power if I mine the story for its gold and apply it to my life. The possibilities and permutations are endless. You never run out of ways to learn from observation.

In all this, you might be assuming that I am only talking about positive examples because we all value positive outcomes. While we definitely value those positive outcomes from positive examples, you can learn as much from a negative example as from a positive one. In a sense, those examples are particularly potent in that you didn’t have to experience the pain or embarrassment yourself to learn that lesson. You watched someone else go through the catastrophe. You must keep your eyes open. I have learned immensely from some horrific examples. Understanding the wrong way to do something is just as important as understanding the right way to do something.

You’re never so smart that you can’t learn another valuable lesson (but if you think you are, then I’d like to talk with you!). Observation is so obvious and simple. Because of that, its profundity sometimes escapes us. Seeing a truth demonstrated can be so much more powerful than simply hearing it articulated.

Keep your eyes open.


In one of the classes I regularly train, I emphatically tell my students:

The secret to success in your job is not memorization, it is navigation.

Navigation means knowing where to look, what tools and resources to use, and how to network. Whether online or in person, navigation is what makes anyone successful in a job. Many people can memorize, but memorization will eventually fail you because content and technology will change. But the person who knows where to find the information will always win.

The jobs market and where the economy is going are areas that similarly favor the navigator over the memorizer. Memorization can get you locked into positions and situations that may no longer be accurate or viable. On the other hand, navigation will sustain you as a player on the field.

The June 26, 2017 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek is entitled, “The Jobs Issue.” In it, Peter Coy ponders the future of automation and robots. He points out that although robots can do many things in the workplace, many things exist that they cannot do. And that is exactly why navigation is important for the American worker today as Coy explains (“The Robots Are Coming (But You’ll Still Need to Work)” pp. 8–9):

Labor shortages manifest themselves as skill shortages because employers don’t just need bodies, they need talents. . . .

In the future, those who turn automation to their advantage will tend to be more educated. They will ride the technology waves better because they’re more adaptable.” (p. 9)

If employers just needed bodies, then yes, any robot will do. But for most tasks, employers need talents and only people have those. Talents are further developed by education. More education increases worker versatility and yes . . . the ability to navigate.

The statistics continuously prove the direct and indirect value of education. The seasonally adjusted June 2017 unemployment rate for persons not having a high school diploma is 6.4% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Having a high school diploma drops that rate to 4.6% and some college or a two-year degree drops it further to 3.8%. Pretty good trending, would you not agree? Finally, if we look at people having a four-year degree, a graduate degree, or a doctoral degree, the unemployment rate is a low 2.4%. Not bad, given our rough economy.

Regardless of how good or bad the economy is, regardless of how many individual academic and career disasters can be cited, and regardless of how loudly the antidegree crowd howls, overall you are still in a better position having a degree than not having a degree. And one of the intrinsic reasons why is because navigation beats memorization.

The jobs market and where the economy is going will always be challenging areas. Yes, it is okay to be a memorizer. Just be certain that your ability as a memorizer is only exceeded by your ability as a navigator.


Jobs are forever an important topic of discussion. The terms of that discussion are always changing. I think it has something to do with the cheese.

In his classic book, Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson posits that some changes are changes that we can control. Some changes are changes that we cannot control. But our attitude is of ultimate importance with all change. How you respond to change is immensely more important, powerful, and telling than the specifics of the change itself.

The June 26, 2017 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek is entitled, “The Jobs Issue.” In it, Michael R. Bloomberg makes a fundamentally important declaration about changes in the job market and how we ought to respond (“Government and the Rise of Automation” p. 10):

Capitalism has brought opportunity to billions of people around the world and reduced poverty and disease on a monumental scale. Driving that progress have been advances in knowledge and technology that disrupt industries and create new ones. We celebrate market disruptions for the overall benefits they generate, but they also present challenges to workers whose skills are rendered obsolete. . . .

Attempting to slow the pace of technological change to preserve particular jobs is neither possible nor desirable.

And why would we want to do that? We can no further stop the changing job market than we can stop time. But how you respond to changes in the job market is immensely more important, powerful, and telling that the specifics of the change.

Bloomberg goes on to emphasize the importance of a synergistic cooperation among employers, governments, universities, and workers to facilitate navigation in our incredibly complex and constantly changing employment world, all of which I endorse. As important as all that is, when it comes to the individual worker, that is where the buck has always and will always stop. You and I as individuals must assume rightful responsibility for making and keeping ourselves employable.

Ultimately, no one ever truly has a right or a guarantee to a job. What we do have is the constant opportunity to make ourselves employable. And exactly what that looks like is as varied as the colors of the rainbow.

Preparing oneself for a viable, lucrative, and fulfilling future is not something you do once and then forget about it. It is a lifelong endeavor. This means that we ought to be constantly assessing our skills, experience, credentials, strengths, weaknesses, and aptitudes. The job that is a perfect fit today may be the job you grow out of tomorrow. The job that you earned last year could be the job that is eliminated today.

Life has ups and downs, good times and bad times. Jobs come and go. However, what never changes is that you have the power to craft who you are and who you are becoming. Those are endeavors that must always take top priority in your life. After all, your future genuinely depends on it.


One way or another we’ve all entertained the proverbial question of should we own or rent? Of course, the correct answer to that question always depends on your circumstances and what is being owned or rented. In the business and technology world, one of the latest places the own-or-rent question arises is software.

Are you better off purchasing a software application (in which case of course you do not truly own the software, but rather you have purchased a license to use the software) or are you better off paying a regular fee to maintain your license to continue to use the software? In the “own” scenario, the user retains the freedom to decide when a new release of the software justifies a new or an upgrade purchase. In the “rent” scenario, the user pays a cyclical fee for the right to continue using the software, with its updates automatically included as they are issued. Obviously, we often find consumers strongly advocating or condemning one or the other approach.

Be that as it may, the controversy is not stopping increasing numbers of software companies from shifting over to the “rent” scenario. SaaS (software as a service) has been around a while and only shows signs of accelerating growth. A few years ago when Adobe made the decision to shift more heavily into SaaS, the decision looked a little risky. However, about 80% of Adobe’s revenue now comes from subscription-based software products.

Professional photographer, Brad Trent, is a good example of those who understand, yet strongly object to, Adobe’s strategic transition to SaaS (Rob Walker, “How Adobe Got Its Customers Hooked” Bloomberg Businessweek. 6/12/17–6/18/17, pp. 37–38):

‘As a business move for them, I get it. . . . “But you can’t get off. It’s like they’ve hooked everybody on digital heroin, and you’re gonna be on it for the rest of your life.’” (p. 38)

Although I appreciate Trent’s argument and concern, and share it myself to some degree, I am optimistic about the long run. We cannot forget that Adobe is intrinsically motivated to apply continuous improvement to its software services for a couple of reasons:

  • Like any industry leader, Adobe understands that you cannot ignore your competition. You always want to be giving your customers outstanding quality so that they do not feel the need to look to competitor or open-source products.
  • Like any industry leader, Adobe wants to satisfy its contractual, ethical, fiscal, and performance commitments to its stakeholders. Odds are that Adobe will continue providing an excellent service to its customers in every respect.

I remember when I was a kid my dad passionately refused to sign up for cable TV. He wanted to own his hardware and freely enjoy the advertiser-paid “free” programming. He did not believe that he should have to pay for TV entertainment, news, and information. In an analogous fashion, but from a viewer context, he made the same arguments that SaaS critics make today about software.

Well, things change. TV entertainment has always had the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nevertheless, I’d say we have a whole lot more of the good to pick from today than ever. And I think that is true of software too.